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Featured Poem: The Bird of Time by Sarojini Naidu

Written by Rachael Norris, 8th June 2020

This week in our special series of Featured Poems, Suvi Dogra, The Reader's London Development Manager, shares her thoughts on The Bird of Time by Sarojini Naidu.

Can you imagine time as a bird?

What a sublime way to express the workings of time through the movements of a bird and nature’s lens - a vibrant canvas! I wondered if the link is made because a bird’s ability to fly is like the flight of time? I found it interesting that at the very beginning a benign quality is accorded to time, ‘fruitful bough.’ We often don’t see time as something fruitful. We tend to lament about the loss or the fast pace of time, but the poet starts from a place of abundance for time, which I found very refreshing.

The first verse seems to acknowledge the dual facets of time, the positive and the negative, an interplay of opposites.

`Of poignant sorrow and passionate strife,
And the lilting joy of the spring'

I think that offers an explanation on the balance the poet is trying to find in the poem. The balance that time is probably supposed to bring -- life and death, sorrow and hope. Death is viewed as a measure of time. There's an allusion to the power of time to create new life through spring, and there's joy and sorrow and hope. Time envelops it all. I find it very lyrical, a song almost.

In this, the poet acknowledges the transient nature of time and even embraces it, but not before seeking the larger answers,

‘O Bird of Time, say where did you learn
The changing measures you sing?’

Here again, time as a bird helps us understand its ephemeral quality. It almost becomes more palatable. Just as we don’t expect a bird to remain still, time too is a wanderer, free from our wishes and desires. Throughout the poem the images of everyday life present time as that which circumscribes life and yet nothing can hold it down. It almost feels time is a keeper of life, it does not govern the quality of it but ensures it rejuvenates and renews.


The Bird of Time⁠

O Bird of Time on your fruitful bough

What are the songs you sing? . . .

Songs of the glory and gladness of life,

Of poignant sorrow and passionate strife,

And the lilting joy of the spring;

Of hope that sows for the years unborn,

And faith that dreams of a tarrying morn,

The fragrant peace of the twilight's breath,

And the mystic silence that men call death.

O Bird of Time, say where did you learn

The changing measures you sing? . . .

In blowing forests and breaking tides,

In the happy laughter of new-made brides,

And the nests of the new-born spring;

In the dawn that thrills to a mother's prayer,

And the night that shelters a heart's despair,

In the sigh of pity, the sob of hate,

And the pride of a soul that has conquered fate.

By Sarojini Naidu (13 February 1879 – 2 March 1949)

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